I remember back in high school myself and many others would often interrogate our teachers about the applicability of what we were learning to “real life,” meaning our lives after high school. I’ll leave aside many years of English class for this entry and focus on mathematics.
The problem was that some teachers, well, all of them, actually, felt it important to at least try to justify to us the use of math in life, perhaps out of fear that enough of this sort of sentiment would get their budgets cut, or whatever. The examples they and the text books came up with were always highly contrived and not very convincing. Things like, well, one day you might need to build a roof, and then you’ll want to know trigonometry, or whatever. Truth is that, unfortunately, most of us don’t build roofs.
Of course the real reason behind the teaching of math in publich schools, or at least what should be the reason behind it, is twofold:
- Mathematics teaches critical thinking and reasoning skills that will be useful for our entire lives. Math teaches logic, good decision making, etc. Formal proofs show clearly cause and effect, inferance, etc. Math helps us to understand structure. Math helps us understand rules. And society likes rules.
- Math is beautiful. There is no getting around this. Math distills down the amazing world around us into something rational and expressable. Math is just a really amazing wonderful thing. Geometry is damn cool. Algebra rocks. Calculus, oh man, what can I say.
Is it so wrong to learn something just so that you know it? Is it so bad to teach people things just because they are interesting, inspiring, powerful?
That said, I’m making no excuses for the public school system. Fact remains that I love Calculus to death but continue to be dreadful at it. I guess some of us just aren’t cut out for that sort of thing.